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How to do Animal Photography

 28th Jul 2020

UBC 2017 250 REPLACED W MASTERCLASSAnimal photography ranges from beautiful portraits of your pet to candid wildlife photographs. We’ve all been amazed by those National Geographic images of animals in action haven’t we?

You don’t have to be on safari to practice your animal photography either. If you’ve got enough images of your pets you could consider taking a walk along farmlands or visiting a wildlife park. Photographing animals is challenging because you have to have the knowledge to control your camera effectively and understand the animal to get that great shot. Photographing animals can be really rewarding and when I have had the opportunity to do animal photography I’ve really enjoyed it! In this blog we’re going to look at how to do animal photography and my top tips for you to get out there and practice!

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Getting starts with animal photography

What do we need to consider when we’re approaching animal photography?

Firstly, choose the right lens for the job at hand. I am a big advocate for using your feet but if you are out in the wild with carnivorous animals then go for a telephoto lens. If however you’re taking photos of your nan’s dog then choose your lens based on the photo you’re planning.

Don’t forget to protect your equipment (and yourself). A lot of camera bags come with weather covers which is great but you might need something to protect your lens from scratches and your mirror from the elements when changing lenses. Be mindful of your environment and prepare for your equipment accordingly. 

Use the right settings for your set up. Consider light, composition, background, foreground and set your camera up accordingly. Remember to use the right ISO and shutter speed. If you’re photographing an active dog you’ll need a much faster shutter speed than if you’re shooting a sleeping cat!

A tripod can really help you get the shots you need with a longer shutter speed or if you want to create an opportunity for more light. You can also set a tripod up with a remote to capture those quick shots in succession without drawing too much attention to yourself by moving to get the shot.

It’s really important that you take time to learn about the animal and how it responds. A giraffe in a zoo will be used to a camera and lots of people but a wild rabbit, deer or pet may not. Knowing more about them and how they behave will give you the opportunity to capture them in a more natural way.

Showing the animals' environment can really make an image. Don’t let it take over but choose a background that is relevant and enhances the mood of the photo. If you’re going for an ominous shot of a lion in a zoo then get the fencing in but if you’re aiming for a natural habitat shot then include as much of that as you can.

Animals have amazing senses and will pick up if you’re afraid or anxious. Try and relax. Animals will be much more likely to be curious and interested in you if you aren’t emitting an aura of fear. Move slowly around animals, respect their space and they will return the favour by giving you some amazing opportunities to capture their essence.

Focus on the animals expressions - this is more relevant when photographing pets but take note of their responses, their behaviours and their grins. These make the best photos! 

Animal photography top tips 

Animal photography isn’t one of my areas of expertise but if you are interested in photographing animals and just getting started then these are my top 5 tips!

  1. Practice and patience - the same applies for all photography. Practice, practice and practice some more. Get your eye in, spend some time with animals, sit with them, be with them and wait for the perfect moment.  Remember, you’re on their time!
  2. Visit a zoo - challenge yourself by photographing different animals. Zoos, aquariums and safari parks offer endless opportunities to photograph different animals. Aquariums especially challenge you to photograph with low light which is a great resource for skill building.

    Finding a way to photograph animals in a conservation or captive situation will push you to be more creative in how you portray them against their environment plus you get to admire the astounding animals that grace us with their presence on this earth.
  3. Keep a low profile - Don’t announce your arrival. Rather fade into the background - you want to capture the animal in their moment not according to what you imagine to be appropriate. This will also help the animal relax and see you as a friend rather than a threat.

    Respect the animal’s space and work without interrupting their routine. 
  4. Don’t be afraid of bad weather - Bad weather brings out some great characters and there is nothing stopping you from throwing on a coat and a pair of wellies. If you’re on a local walk you will suddenly hear birds chirping in the rain and see earthworms scarpering out into the mud. A whole host of life exists no matter the weather.
  5. Remember the little guys - Animal photography doesn’t have to be about the majestic lions, adored dogs or beautiful birds. There are so many small creatures and critters that are right outside your doorstep, you just need to know where to look. They give us a real challenge in finding and photographing them - a great way to hone your skills.

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Animal photography is a challenge because of how unpredictable animals can be but once you get those beautiful shots the result is worth the climb.

Remember to focus on the animal and take your time whether you’re photographing a pet, a wild animal or an insect in your garden. They all deserve the respect of your space. 

If you are excited to get stuck into animal photography it’s important to have the foundations cemented down.

I’m talking about camera control, clarity on your settings - especially using manual mode, an understanding of light and composition - how they affect your photos and the incredible creative opportunities they create. 

With these core skills under your belt, you can really elevate your images - no matter what your subject might be...

Take a look at my Masterclass in Photography. It’s the perfect platform to give you the leg up you need to start taking fantastic photos of creatures great and small!